By Adrian Porter
LONDON, 30 September 1999 - Barely three months
after the conclusion of the cricket world Cup comes another such
competition this time its the rugby World Cup which will be
played in Britain, Ireland and France.
Beginning on October
1st, twenty national sides, ranging from the mighty All Blacks of New
Zealand to the rank outsiders of Uruguay, will engage in a crunching
display of one of the most physical games of all.
horrors of the gouging, butting , and hiting that takes place among
the forwards in the front row of the scrums are best left undescribed,
but they are an almost accepted part of a rough, tough game - and are
revealed by the toothless grins, cauliflower ears, and puffy eyebrows
of the participants.
There is, however, another side to what
has actually been called "the culture of rugby" and that is
the skill of the men outside the scrum - the fly halves, the centre
and wing three-quarters and the full-backs.
With new rules
which have eliminated most of the games robotic, stodgy and
time-wasting elements and with players who are dedicated full-time
professionals, rugby has now become a constant high-speed game
encouraging swift, darting moves, accurate passes and relentless
To watch the break away of a fly half, his
pass to a centre three-quarters who dodges at high speed through
opponents tackles and then his pass to a winger who accelerates
like a sprinting heifer to touch down for a try is to witness an art
This art form, among the many other aesthetic
pleasures of the game, should be seen at it highest level in the 35
matches of the tournament to be played at 18 different venues.
official host of the World Cup, Wales will stage the opening game at
its brand-new Millennium Stadium in Cardiff where the Welsh XV will
play Argentina. From then until the final on November 6th, the
competing nations will progress through games in live "pools"
- or groups - of four teams, quarter-finals playoffs, quarter-finals,
3rd place playoffs and semi-finals.
Bets on New Zealand
Few experts doubt that New Zealands
All Blacks will be one of the teams in the final but there is a
understandable uncertainty about which nation will face them.
bookmakers have most second-place money on Australia at the moment but
the last World Cup champions in 1995, South Africa, although not on
form recently, are likely to be reach.
From these forecasts
can be gauged the perceived dominance of the three southern hemisphere
countries with their fast-moving, robust, in-your-face style of play.
Of the European teams, England and Wales, perhaps, come nearest to the
southern hemisphere ethic and they should benefit from playing on
their home turf.
What appears to put the "Southerners"
ahead, however, is the sheer star quality of their leading players.
One name to stand out is Christian Cullen, the New Zealand
full-back, who can also play at centre or wing. He is reckoned to be
the best rugby player in the world and his reputation is built on his
blistering pace and power and his brilliance in cutting through
Beware any player who kicks high
and hard and finds Cullen waiting to take the ball and run. He either
glides past defenders or bounces off them. Tackles seem to slide off
But, of course, there are others. Cullens
teammate, the New Zealand fly-half, Andrew Mehrtens, exerts control
over most of the All Blacks moves. His tactical kicking is
almost flawless and he has the ability to get his three-quarter line
moving quickly to exploit weaknesses which he almost intuitively spots
in opponents defenses.
And talking of kicking, a fair
number of the games will be won on a tally of penalty goals kicked by
specialists like Neil Jenkins, the Welsh fly-half, who has won tight
games on the points he has scored from his boot.
gliding through defenses and opening up the game for his colleagues,
not many can match fly-half Gregor Townsend of Scotland. He doesnt
so much bounce off tackles as evade then completely.
for the backs. How about the forwards: the stokers in the boiler house
of the scrums and their swifter teammates - the flankers? Its
hard to believe that these rough toughies can perform a kind of
muscular ballet as they hoist one of their big men almost shoulder
high to snatch a line-out hall form the air.
Dallaglio, the former England captain, stands out as one of the
fittest and fastest of the big men. He was recently suspended for a
while following a tabloid newspapers allegations that he had
admitted taking drugs. Dallaglio said he had merely been boasting and
telling white lies and he has been reinstated.
actually improved on his superb physical fitness and muscle power
during his enforced lay-off and he has a lot to prove in the World
A real all-rounder among the forwards is Australias
captain, John Eagles, who not only towers - physically and skillfully
- above others of his ilk but he can kick goals as well.
then, of course, there is that archetype of the massive brutal,
bullheaded forward - Os du Rand of South Africa. I need say no more
about him that his nickname is "Ox".
and their teams will all be on show in the preliminary three days of
the tournament as follows:
Pool A: Spain v Uruguay;
Scotland v South Africa
Pool B: England v Italy; New Zealand v
Pool C: Fiji v Namibia; France v Canada
Pool D: Wales v
Argentina; Samoa v Japan
Pool E: Ireland v U.S.A.; Australia v
The following round of games begins on October
Finally, I append what must best be describe as a "titbit"
of extraneous information. The sponsors of the competition, the beer
brewers, Guinness, have made available a black and white sack in the
shape of a pint of their best known brew. It is to be used by stewards
to cover up those naked streakers - male and female - who love to
haunt their assets in front of rugby crowds.